Chinatown residents packed a small hearing room at City Hall Thursday to testify on a new Special Service Area designation for the neighborhood. Past and present residents and business owners complained the process has lacked transparency and that the tax burden is already too high. But local Ald. Danny Solis (25) said there were a lot of misconceptions from detractors and affirmed he will support it.
Chicago has more than 50 of these special taxing districts, officially called Special Service Areas (SSAs). They are funded through a special property tax levy imposed on all property within the set boundaries. The Chinatown levy would be no more than 0.8%, with a first year estimated rate of 0.31%.
One block was removed from the map. Chinatown Square, the mall along Archer and Wentworth avenues, “is perhaps the most heavily trafficked area of Chinatown,” observed DNAinfo..Their story was also about opposition to the SSA. The fight has been brewing for close to two years.
Property taxes for the square were forfeited between 2010 and 2015 by the Chinatown Square Association. A third party bought the delinquent tax lien. That area will be excluded from the proposed SSA until the tax issue can be resolved, Department of Planning and Development (DPD) officials said Thursday.
A spokesperson for DPD did not respond to an additional request for comment about how excluding those properties might impact the SSA’s budget. The new SSA 73 would cover more than 250 properties, 99% of which are zoned commercial or mixed-use. The SSA projects a first year budget of $161,755.
SSAs generally cover neighborhood commercial strips and support public amenities or beautification efforts in addition to those provided by the city. This could be anything from more trashcans and street lighting to snow removal and private security. Proponents of the Chinatown SSA said that money could go toward trash pickup, sidewalks maintenance, and signage to draw more tourists to the neighborhood’s businesses and attractions like Ping Tom Park and the new Chinatown Public Library.
There have been four community meetings on the SSA, which is being pushed by the Chamber of Commerce in Chinatown. It has drawn vocal opponents, including many who argued they were already facing growing taxes. They said they could not afford to push rising tax costs at their restaurants or stores to customers. The median cost per property per year is $382, according to this FAQ from proponents.
Robert Hoy of the United Chinatown Organization, spoke at length against the taxing district, saying Chinatown does not need an SSA for growth, and that the Chamber could take on the duties itself.
“There’s nothing that they’ve said that is concrete and measurable. There’s no milestones. The only thing that you’re going to get from this SSA is language. We need accountability and we’re not getting that.”
Each SSA is governed by a delegate agency and board of commissioners whose appointments are approved by the City Council’s Finance Committee. The slate of Chinatown Advisory Board members is hosted on the advisory board’s website, but does not identify which organizations each member represents.
With Solis’ support, the issue could come before City Council before the end of the year.
The other SSA public hearing on the reconstitution of Cottage Grove SSA No. 47 in Ald. Sophia King’s (4) ward drew only positive testimony.
King said the manager, Quad Cities Development Corporation (QCDC), has been a “known quantity and have just done numerous activities in the community” and “have provided stability” along the commercial corridor.